Thursday, 29 April 2021

Questions (18)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

18. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding taxi drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22394/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I recognise that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on small businesses across the country with the public transport sector being especially affected as public health restrictions have necessarily discouraged people from travelling generally. Taxi and other small public service vehicle (SPSV) operators, who are particularly dependent on the hospitality and tourism sectors, have faced a particularly pronounced drop in demand for their services.

It is in recognition of these difficulties that the Government has introduced a wide-ranging programme of supports with broad eligibility criteria for individuals and businesses which have been adversely affected by COVID-19. Many of these supports can be accessed by self-employed taxi drivers including liquidity and investment measures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as well as the Enterprise Support Grant and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) from the Department of Social Protection.

It is recognised that SPSV operators, like many self-employed individuals, face expenses such as insurance and car financing costs. That is why operators can avail of the Self-Employment Income Scheme. This allows recipients to earn up to €960, net of expenses, in a given 8 week period without losing their entitlement to the PUP. Furthermore, individuals exiting the PUP may also avail of the COVID-19 Enterprise Support Grant, a once-off grant of up to €1,000 which can be used towards the costs associated with reopening a business, including the purchase of cleaning materials and personal protective equipment.

I remain committed to supporting the transition of the SPSV sector towards zero/low-emission vehicles and I have increased the funding available to the Electric SPSV (eSPSV) grant scheme from €1 million in 2020 to €15 million in 2021. Furthermore, in view of the particular challenges faced by operators of older vehicles, I have doubled the amount payable under the scheme to €20,000 for operators who scrap older vehicles and make the switch to full electric models. Additional amounts are available for those switching to vehicles which are both electric and wheelchair accessible.  There has been a strong interest in the revised scheme since its launch in February with over 400 applications received to date.

My Department has provided up to €2.6 million to the NTA to enable it to waive standard vehicle licence renewal fees for 2021. In relation to age limits for taxis and hackneys, this is a matter for the NTA as statutory regulator. I can confirm, however, that the NTA has extended age limits for taxis twice since the start of the pandemic and I trust that the NTA will keep this issue under active review as the situation progresses

In relation to the issue on insurance, I’d like to inform the Deputy that the NTA has engaged with the insurance industry and will facilitate a suspension of SPSV insurance for those SPSV operators who decide to temporarily stop working and suspend their licences. Operators who suspend their licences will be able to either reduce their monthly premium or receive a refund from their insurer, depending on their individual arrangements with their insurer.

The National Transport Authority, as statutory regulator for the sector, will continue to engage with the industry and communicate regularly with individual SPSV operators in relation to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.  My Department and the NTA will also continue to engage from time to time with stakeholder groups, including driver representative groups. I am also due to meet with the Advisory Committee on SPSVs at its next meeting on Thursday 29 April.